Some of these lies originate with our own flawed perspectives. Some are pushed on us by others we trust. Others are sold to us through the vast web of media that comprises much of our life experience. Many of them we believe.
If I can just reach this milestone, I’ll be truly happy.
Follow your heart and you’ll never go wrong.
The here and now is all there is, so I might as well do whatever I feel like in the moment.
If I can find my soul mate, I’ll never feel alone again.
There’s a part of our humanity that warns us of the fleeting nature of the present, the darkness of our own hearts, and the inability of another human to make us whole. Yet these are lies many of us buy into practically. In our heads we know they aren’t true, but our day to day choices reflect a belief in them.
These lies can come from any number of places, but I’m interested in exploring their prevalence in the stories we encounter. How many cheesy romances leave you feeling like you’re incomplete until you find the perfect lover? How many sports films convince you that the champion title is the ultimate goal in life? How many glamorized war films persuade nonveterans that the battlefield is a glorious place to be?
But for some reason, placing these ideas in the context of a story with relatable characters compels us to feel that there must be an element of truth. This comes back to Walter Fisher’s narrative paradigm: a rhetorical system that accounts for the various nonrational ways we as humans can be persuaded. The concept is simple—we hear a story that moves us emotionally, and we alter our beliefs according to our emotional response to that story. This means compelling narratives can persuade us of things we would never accept in a strictly rational sense. They arrest us by the heart, and we become putty in their hands.
And so we subconsciously begin to believe the lie.
As someone born with a strong natural sense of nostalgia, I have lately realized one of my core lies: that somehow the past can be relived. Someday it will all go back to the way it was—the blissful days of childhood when my family was all still alive and life was simple. Someday lost friends will return to my life, and we will all enjoy the harmony we once had. If I can just reimagine a particular moment clearly enough, it will happen all over again.
As I think of this lie, I am reminded of The Great Gatsby, in Jay Gatsby’s most revelatory exchange with the narrator:
“You can’t repeat the past.” (Nick Carraway)
“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” (Gatsby)
While I rationally know that no moment of the past can actually be resurrected, my nostalgic nature continues to promise me that it can all come back someday—just like Jay Gatsby believed. If you know F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous story, this illusion leads to some pretty tragic consequences. I doubt my life will pan out as dramatically (hopefully it doesn’t!), but the point stands: believing a life lie always has consequences.
In fact, many literary and cinematic masterpieces are designed to do just that: illustrate what a lie looks like when lived out. The hope is that we as the audience will recognize our own reflection in the mirror and root out the lie’s effect in our lives. We need more of this type of narrative today.
Sadly, though, many stories are better at deceiving us. They keep feeding us the predictable values of pop culture—the ego-inflating, the saccharine, the materialistic, the toxic. A steady diet of this is going to change us. Subtly, yes. Slowly, perhaps. It may not alter the values we talk about or the claims we make, but it will alter the way we interpret life and the choices we make. It will change who we are.
Believing a lie always does.
What are some convincing lies you recognize in stories?
Which lies have you bought into at different points in life?